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Upper Pine fire talks mental health for national video

Public service announcement raises awareness of wellness resources
Bruce Evans, chief of Upper Pine River Fire Protection District, films a public service announcement about health and wellness in the first-responder field. (Courtesy of Preston Benson Videography/Mindy Walck)

The Upper Pine River Fire Protection District stepped into the limelight Tuesday to raise awareness of health and wellness in the first-responder field.

The fire district, which covers 284 square miles primarily in eastern La Plata County, worked with the FirstNet Health and Wellness Coalition to film a public service announcement about the career’s health impacts and mental wellness resources. More and more people seem to be leaving the industry and its stressors behind, said Chief Bruce Evans with Upper Pine.

“We’re concerned about attracting new people into the business and keeping the people we have,” he said.

It is estimated that 30% of first responders experience behavioral health conditions, such as depression and PTSD. Firefighters have attempted suicide or thought about it at higher rates than the general population, according to a 2018 report by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services.

The PSA video talked about the stress of the job and local and national resources meant to help first responders, such as peer support teams, Evans said. Filming wrapped Tuesday, and the PSA video will be released in coming months.

“There’s a tremendous drop in the number of EMTs and paramedics that are either recertified or coming into the pipeline,” said Evans, who is also president of the National Association of Emergency Medicine Technicians.

Many people felt burned out after the COVID-19 emergencies in 2020. Others left because of low wages in the field or because of bad management in their agencies, he said.

“Statistically, it looks like people will change employers twice and the third time they’ll just quit the profession and do something different,” Evans said.

The industry is trying to build resources to address those staffing issues and improve employee well-being.

National Association of Emergency Medicine Technicians is one of more than two dozen members of the FirstNet Health & Wellness Coalition, which offers holistic health resources for first responders. The group focuses on stress management, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicide prevention, physical fitness and leadership engagement.

It is an initiative of FirstNet, a wireless network dedicated to public safety communications. The network, built with AT&T and the First Responder Network Authority, operates nationally and prioritizes communication frequencies for public safety operations.

smullane@durangoherald.com

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